Stephen Malkmus is not 27; The Jicks are not Pavement; and contrary to the sheltered criticisms of fan boy naysayers: Mirror Traffic has a lot to offer. Sure, it’s reflective rather than curious, accomplished rather than immediate – but it would be an affectation to try and recapture the urgent fumbles of the first time two decades on. Christ, why would you want to?
There are some outstanding tracks on Mirror Teeth. “Brain Gallop” is wonderfully accomplished Indie-Rock-Pop, complete with a yearning, bittersweet chorus containing the immortal line: “There’s not much left inside my tank today / there’s just enough to come and whisk you away”. Similarly, “Forever 28” is gloriously catchy, polished lo-fi - with tinges of prime-time Weezer. Meanwhile (the questionably titled) “Spazz” opens with the typically laconic: “would you like to pet my rifle?” before descending into time-shifting greatness. The chorus offers up a wonderfully simple guitar hook and bass driven vocal harmonies. Like the pieces of a puzzle neatly slotting into an entirely surprising whole.
Beck’s presence in the production booth is a welcome addition. His hand is effortlessly efficient, offering a few firm accents that lift the mix – a muffled horn, a bright glock, an unexpected parallel.
It’s not, however, a perfect album. There are few fillers - it could have happily slimmed to a twelve track triumph. Furthermore, although the songs are for the most part shorter than first three solo albums – with less guitar based indulgence – a couple do outstay their welcome, particularly when Malkmus drops his riff-restrain. But, in fairness, it’s hardly surprising. By Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain Malkmus had broken the five minute threshold, Wowee Zowee had 18 tracks and the man knows his way around a six string. If you’ve got it, you can be forgiven the occasional flaunt.
Indie Rock Royalty status comes at a price: a tireless battle with your younger self. Or – more specifically - your fans idolised perception of your younger self. In the warm and generous “No One Is (As I Are Be)” Malkmus sings – with Yo La Tengo gentleness - “Unfortunately none of us will get away spared”. Soft brass settles in, a harmonica rises and falls again. But a restless piano simmers underneath. In borrowed words: age considers; youth ventures. With its closing notes the adage rings true. Mirror Traffic is not ardently innovative, but it’s not stagnant in its resolve. It’s observant, contemplative and skilfully realised – qualities that mature with time. Qualities that should be celebrated.